not quite simnel cake

not quite simnel cake
Simnel cake has its origins in medieval times, traditionally served at Easter and on Mothering Sunday. It is a light and fragrant fruit cake, topped with a layer of marzipan as well as balls of marzipan. However, the myths that surround this cake (the balls are said to represent the apostles, less Judas) are sadly sheer taradiddle. The Victorians were great reinventers of history and folklore and it would seem that the traditions supposed to surround this cake are a fabrication. Which is why I don't feel quite so bad about making a Simnel cake that is somewhat lacking in one of the key ingredients - marzipan.

Heresy I know. But I didn't seem much point in baking a marzipan cake for people who had told me quite categorically that they didn't like marzipan. Although little did they know that I had sneaked the marzipan in by grating it into the cake batter. Needless to say, my tasters thought the cake had a lovely almond taste and thought I had used almond essence. It turns out that despite themselves they do like marzipan, but their secret is safe with me.

As mentioned in previous baking recipes, I like to use the same amount of butter and sugar to eggs; the traditional method of baking cakes. Take the eggs and weigh them. Whatever they weigh, match their weight with equal measures of butter, sugar and flour. So for example, if the eggs weigh 200g, then use 200g each of butter, sugar and flour. It guarantees good results every single time.

Skill level: Easy

4 x medium-sized eggs - see directions
230g butter, softened (at room temperature), plus extra for greasing (I use salted butter) - see directions
230g caster sugar (I use home-made vanilla sugar) - see directions
230g self-raising flour, sifted - see directions
2tsp mixed spice
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
250g mixed dried fruit (I use a mix of currants, raisins, sour cherries and sultanas)
100g marzipan, roughly grated (or to taste)
50g mixed peel
125g icing sugar, sifted
5 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
edible sugar stars - optional

  1. Take a 20cm clip-sided round cake tin and lightly grease with butter. Line and grease the removable bottom with baking paper.
  2. Preheat the oven to 150C / Gas Mark 2.
  3. Weigh out 4 medium-sized eggs in order to work out how much butter, flour and sugar you will need.
  4. Ensure that the butter is well softened but not melted - I use an electric whisk and whisk for about 2 minutes before adding the sugar.
  5. Add the sugar and cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is pale and the sugar has started to dissolve. The mixture will be both pale and less gritty. This will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat well in between adding each egg. If the mixture looks as if it might be curdling then add some of the flour and continue to beat before adding more egg.
  7. Beat in the zest, together with the dried fruit, marzipan and mixed peel.
  8. Sift the flour and mixed spice together, then fold in the flour (using a metal spoon) and ensure that it is well mixed in.
  9. Pour or spoon the cake batter into the tin and bake on the middle shelf for about 2 hours or until a skewer, when inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. I have seen some recipes which suggest a cooking time of 2½ hours, but my cakes have never taken this long, so keep on checking!
  10. If the cake looks as if it is browning too quickly, then cover loosely with a piece of foil.
  11. Leave the cake to cool, in the tin, on a wire cake rack.
  12. When cooled, unclip the tin and remove the sides, then the base. Carefully peel off the paper.
  13. Make the icing by mixing the sifted icing sugar with the orange juice until thick but spreadable. Spread over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.
  14. Sprinkle over the edible sugar stars. Leave to set.

  • I like the heat up either some black tea or fruit juice (orange or apple juice) and leave the dried fruit and mixed peel to soak in it overnight, before draining well. This plumps up the fruit and ensures the cake is moist.
  • Replace the caster sugar with light muscovado sugar.
  • As a Mothering Sunday cake, this was traditionally decorated with crystallised flowers such as angelica, primroses and violets.


Donkey said...

that is real sneaky of you...I don't like marzipane either, but I would be like your tasters and would fall for it. It's a bit like liver, can't stand the stuff, but like pate - go figure :-)
Sounds a great cake but I would remove the marzipane....hahaha

Lauralovescakes said...

An interesting take on a simnel cake and a very crafty way of sneaking marzipan into your cake! :-)

Caroline Taylor said...

I love the name of this cake. I don't like marzipan but your way of grating it in sounds like I might like it!

chow and chatter said...

looks like a great cake and love the decoration of it

Shu Han said...

learnt a lot from this post! I didn't know you could grate mar\ipan in liek that, ithat might change my mind about it (not a fan of it either). cake looks a real treat!

Nic said...

I love the look of your cake. I'm not a fan of those huge globs of marzipan either, so this would be perfect for me!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

So many people really don't like the full-on taste of marzipan or the texture for that matter. But grated and cooked no-one ever notices!